Stomach Massage

When your baby is born their body and internal systems go through major changes. From a warm watery environment where nutrients were supplied via the umbilical cord to a bright dry world where they have to start eating for themselves (with your help!). Like their feet, their digestive system is immature and takes time to develop.

It is best to wait until your baby’s umbilical has healed before beginning any direct massage to their tummy, so if this is the case, keep practicing the legs and feet.

In this module we briefly revisit our cues and you will learn a full stomach massage, several of these techniques are used in the Daily Routine which comes up next. Practice these techniques a few times before moving on.

  • release and relief from gas and colic discomfort
  • improving digestion
  • increasing absorption of nutrients
  • calming and lowering stress
  • better sleep
  • increased body awareness
  • you will get to know them more and learn what helps sooth them

If your baby has an umbilical hernia then I’ve highlighted which technique is not advised. And if you have any concerns always check with your healthcare professional.

When we massage the stomach we always go clockwise as that is the direction of the large intestine. That’s the way digested food travels before it’s passed as poo.

While we are talking about the tummy let’s have a quick chat about ‘tummy time’. Chances are you will be told at some stage about the importance of placing your awake baby on their tummy. The World Health Association recommends: “For infants not yet mobile at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.”

This recommendation came as a result of an increased number of infants presenting with flat head syndrome (positional plagiocephaly)*. The increase in skull deformities is thought to be linked to the introduction of the ‘Safe to Sleep’ campaign that advises parents to place their baby on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of SUDI (Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy). It is not the sleeping on their back alone that contributes to this problem, if a baby spends long periods of time on their back or in one position during the day, such as in car seats, capsules, buggies, bouncers, swings and especially any with head supports, the risk is significantly increased.

From my experience many parents give up on ‘tummy time’ as it upsets their baby and they tell me their baby doesn’t like it. Like anything new it takes time for your baby to get used to this different position, a position that they are like a stranded whale as they do not have the strength or ability to move. So the best place to start tummy time is on your chest or over your lap. I’ve included some tips below to get your started. Little and often is the key, with including some time lying on their side and ensuring that when they are lying on their back they can move their head around.

Introducing ‘tummy time’ early on will help when you get to learning the ‘Back Massage’ routine.

In the previous ‘Passive Movement’ module we touched on the importance of your baby finding their feet to generate a roll. One way to get your baby onto their tummy is to roll them from their back. To do this guide them gently from their hips and legs so they end up lying on their side. Allow them the time here and see if they can finish the move. Giving them movement experiences provides input into their system in a more natural way.

Rolling both ways is an important milestone that your baby needs before they can come to sitting. So they need lots of floor time play on their back, side and stomach to prepare their body for moving to their very first independent upright position. Again, to support their development all they need is a flat firm surface to practice and discover how to move their body. Putting your baby in a propped up seated position DOES NOT teach them how to sit.

  • Watch the video (8 min)
  • Download the ‘Stomach Routine’
  • Print off the ‘Tummy Time Tips’ and share these with your partner as you can both provide and supervise ‘tummy time’ positions and opportunities

Note: At the end of the video it refers to a ‘Colic Routine’ and Guide – these are both included in the next module – “Daily Routine’

*Branch, L.G., Kesty, K., Krebs, E., Wright, L., Leger, S. & David, L.R. (2015). Deformational plagiocephaly and craniosynostosis: Trends in diagnosis and treatment after the “back to sleep” campaign. The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery, 26:147-50.